An eight month long season came to an end, as Fraser Valley’s men’s and women’s U19 squads battled to two bronze-medal finishes at the Western national championships.
The championships served as the qualifier for national championships at the end of May, as the top two finishing teams move on to play against the best in the east in Montreal at the end of the month.
However, despite a strong showing and a couple close matches, Fraser Valley’s teams fell just short of qualifying, with both the men and the women finishing the weekend in third place.
On the men’s side, the first match for the Fraser Valley team was a heartbreaker – as the men needed to best Team Saskatchewan in order to preserve their chance at qualifying. The game was a back and forth affair, with both teams exchanging leads of up to four goals at a time. Not to be held back, both teams found a way to battle back and close deficits, leading to a final minute showdown with Valley up one goal.
A quick strike on the powerplay from Team Sask knotted the game at 12-12 with only 18 seconds remaining in the match. Valley called their timeout, and executed a play to give them a chance to earn back the lead – only to see the shot blocked, and a counter-attack develop quickly in the other direction. With precious seconds ticking away on the clock, Saskatchewan’s Bruno Marunica iced the game, lobbing the ball into the back of the net with only 4 seconds remaining on the clock.
Disappointed by the result, the Fraser Valley men would have to rally quickly, as they were slated to face off against the Edmonton Tsunami in the repechage match.
Meanwhile, the women started the weekend with a pair of regular season matches, before jumping into a game against Pacific Storm, which – had they won - would have vaulted them into the final, and instantly earned the women a qualification to Montreal.
The game was a close one throughout the first half, but the number one ranked-Storm team pulled away in the latter half of the match, and the game ended 13-8 in favour of the cross-town rivals. Valley would be forced to battle through a qualification match with Team Saskatchewan in order to qualify for the final, and earn their trip to national championships.
Saturday was more successful for the men, who earned a pair of victories en route to qualifying for the bronze medal match. First up was the Edmonton Tsunami, who were dispatched 22-19, thanks in part to a massive seven-goal performance from Eric Martel, who will be joining the UC Davis Aggies next season. Garrett Davis, still a U16 athlete, scored five goals himself, while Ashton Erickson, Mate Rebelis, and Richard Laurie also had a multi-goal game.
Later on in the day, the men earned a shot at revenge against Team Saskatchewan, who had dashed their hopes at a national qualification earlier in the tournament. The Valley men came to play in this match, as they jumped out to a 5-1 lead after the first quarter. FV continued to build on the lead throughout the second, while still playing a stifling defensive game which denied Sask the opportunity to execute their signature counter-attack offense. Sam Remfry, who spent most of the season rehabbing from an injury, and who had switched from centre-forward to starting goalie partway through the season, was a standout in nets for the FV team.
Not to be denied, Sask stormed back into the match in the third and fourth quarter, but by then the lead was too great to be overcome. The match would finish 14-11 in Valley’s favour, sending the men to the bronze medal match against the Calgary Wild.
On the women’s side, FV prepared for their biggest game of the season against Team Saskatchewan, with a national qualification and a spot in the Western final on the line. The tension was evident throughout the first quarter, as both teams showed a little hesitancy on the offense, failing to score a single goal either way. With a 0-0 score line heading into the second, things took a turn for the worse as the Sask team went a five goal run before Valley finally answered with one of their own at the start of the third.
But just as in the boys game, it was too little, too late as the surging Team Saskatchewan continued to put balls in the back of the net, extending their lead to 12-4 by the time the final buzzer went. A disappointed, shocked Valley team would have only hours to regroup as they would face the Edmonton Tsunami for the bronze medal.
And, true to form, it was Valley’s leading veterans, and the two graduating athletes in the women’s program, Paige Bennett and Emily Aikema who led the way for the Fraser Valley girls in the bronze medal match. Bennett and Aikema put up seven goals between them, including the first three goals Valley scored in the contest. Unable to keep up with the depth, Valley would cruise to a 14-6 victory, picking up the bronze medal and earning a touch of redemption along the way.
With the women’s victory, Valley was two-for-two in the bronze medal games, as the boys had dispatched the Calgary Wild for the first time this season, en route to picking up third place. Eric Martel continued to lead for the Valley team, putting up six goals in the game, while Hungarian import Mate Rebelis put up five of his own. Ashton Ericsson, another of Valley’s graduating athletes, provided a number of steals before fouling out of the game early in the fourth. Erickson’s speed in the pool was on full display, and it was clear that he will be a force for the University of Victoria’s varsity swim team next season.
As the awards ceremony took place after the games, three Valley athletes were named to the Western all-star team. Congratulations to Emily Aikema, Tanaya Makazu, and Eric Martel on being named to the team, and an even bigger congratulations to the entire Fraser Valley U19 program on an extremely successful, exciting season.
Looking ahead, the U14 program will compete at their Western championships this coming weekend, while the U16s will look to earn a spot in Montreal from May 6-8.